UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families (CYPF) is a service group of UnitingCare NSW.ACT. Our concerns for social justice and the needs of children, young people and families who are disadvantaged inform the way we serve and represent people and communities. UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families is made up of UnitingCare Burnside, UnitingCare Unifam and UnitingCare Disabilities. Together these organisations form one of the largest providers of services to support children and families in NSW.
UnitingCare Burnside's services include wrap-around crisis and support services for children, young people and families at risk of homelessness in Dubbo, the Central Coast and South West Sydney. We deliver three Reconnect programs in NSW that aim to prevent family breakdown and youth homelessness by providing support, advocacy and mediation for young people and their families where the young person is homeless or at risk of homelessness. We are the sole provider in NSW of the pilot HOME Advice Program, Habitat, operating in Wyong on the Central Coast. We run DOORWAYS, a SAAP-funded accommodation, referral and support service in Dubbo for young people and their children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We also run The Drum Youth Resource Centre in South West Sydney which works with young people who may be in crisis, homeless or dealing with drug and alcohol use. Our Family Centres in North Campbelltown have also been working closely with the Minto community during the redevelopment of the public housing estate. Burnside also participates in the NSW accreditation processes for out-of-home care services.
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National Quality Framework
In our response to the discussion on a national quality framework within the homelessness service sector we would like to endorse the following ten key points as developed by the Youth Accommodation Association, Homelessness NSW, Council to Homeless Persons and Queensland Youth Housing Coalition:
- We want national homelessness legislation that has a consumer outcomes focus, including a right to housing, progressively realised.
- A national quality framework that focuses on consumer participation and outcomes, including a robust complaints mechanism, will support quality service delivery.
- A national quality framework must embed continuous quality improvement (CQI) in both standards and accountability and/or accreditation processes.
- Experience tells us that financial investment will be needed to achieve a national quality framework at both a service and a system level.
- Commitment and resources will be required to support sector capacity and workforce development to achieve sustained service quality.
- While it will be challenging to achieve, we want a response to homelessness identified as a key deliverable in a range of National Partnership Agreements (NPAs), including the NPAs for Disability, Healthcare, Indigenous Reform and Education. We seek clarification for how the Federal Government will achieve this.
- We support a principal of transparency of all parties in service accountability to consumers through consumer participation in service delivery and CQI process; and in relationships between the funded sector, government and potential external accreditation providers.
- A continuous quality improvement process will not occur over night and will require state, territory and federal government commitment to a defined strategic process, including support to organisations to achieve the best outcome.
- We must build on the quality systems and accreditation processes that are already established and embedded in many service funding agreements to recognise existing service quality work and reduce the regulatory burden. Accreditation under an existing specialist homelessness accreditation system should satisfy under the NQF.
- A staged process to the development and implementation of standards needs to allow for the different capacity of services to achieve quality requirements. This will include allowing those more advanced to undertake external accreditation while other services are being supported to achieve service quality.
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What is quality service provision?
A national quality framework should aim to improve and establish benchmarks for high-quality service delivery and provide a structure through which services can undertake ongoing quality improvement while recognising and validating good practice in services. It should link in with the development of a national strategy to improve workforce capacity across the community services sector.
Furthermore, a national quality framework should be based on the principle of placing service users at the centre of service provision and should aim to improve the consistency of service delivery and develop clearer expectations for service users about the levels of service delivery that can be provided and the outcomes that may be achieved.
CYPF supports the key characteristics of quality service provision as outlined in the National Quality Framework discussion paper and recommends that working from a strengths-based perspective is another characteristic of quality service provision.
The framework needs to provide sufficient flexibility to take into account the particular challenges of recruiting a 'competent, trained and qualified workforce' in rural/remote areas compared with urban areas and the need for access to resources, training and funding. Furthermore, rural and urban areas often have different needs which must be taken into consideration when measuring outcomes or benchmarks.
Potential components of a national quality framework
CYPF generally supports the components of a national quality framework as detailed in the discussion paper. In particular, we support the development of consumer and service charters and complaints management systems. We also support the creation of alliance models however this must centre on effective government and non-government partnerships that are clearly defined and have an acceptable level of transparency.
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While we support the implementation of standards for the service system, they should be derived from a firm evidence base. Furthermore, standards should not be based solely on measurement of outputs but rather focus on the factors or elements that improve outcomes for service users. This would include recognition of the different pathways that rural/remote services compared with urban services may take to achieve similar outcomes.
CYPF supports an accreditation process, but in order to minimise disruption on service delivery the move to an accreditation system should be developed and implemented within reasonable timeframes. Appropriate resources should also be provided to support data collection, documentation of practices and reporting. Furthermore, an effective accreditation system needs to be linked with resources for capacity building such as cross-agency training so that the accreditation process does not impact on smaller, locally based agencies.
An accreditation process should be linked with a continuous quality improvement approach in order to create a system that encourages positive change within the sector. A continuous quality improvement approach should also create a clear strategy for improving workforce capacity in the community sector as well as including recognition of the value of a highly qualified workforce. Further work will be needed to implement an independent coordinating body that can provide training and resourcing. Continuous quality improvement should also consider supporting a planning and accountability framework such as Results Based Accountability.
The creation of a national quality framework must be based on a co-ordinated approach by the community services sector as a whole as an effective homelessness service system intersects with a range of other human services. It is also important that a NQF connects with other key government initiatives, such as the National Child Protection Framework and the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women, as a holistic approach will be essential to its long-term effectiveness.
Furthermore, the development and implementation of a national quality framework for the diverse range of services that cover the homelessness service system must be subjected to ongoing and independent monitoring and review in order to ensure that it is supporting quality service provision and outcomes.
We would like to thank the UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families staff who participated in consultations and made other contributions as part of the preparation of this submission.
Prepared by Clare Blakemore, Policy Officer
Clare Blakemore, Policy Officer
Policy and Advocacy Program
Social Justice Unit
UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families
PO Box W244, Parramatta NSW 2150
Phone 02 9407 3219, Fax: 02 9687 6349